Monday, November 19, 2007

Some notes on the character of Jacob

For your consideration:

1 - The verse tells us Esav won his father's heart with food. In the very next verse - immediately afterwards, so to speak - we see Jacob preparing a stew.

2 - Esav comes in from the field famished, and on the verge of death. Jacob takes advantage of the situation and trades a bowl of lentils for Esav's dearest possession.

3 - Jacob deceives his father with a goat, and acquires great wealth at Lavan's expense using goats. Later, his own sons deceive him with a goat.

4 - Jacob deceives his father with a garment. Later, his own sons deceive him with a garment.

5 - When his sons deceive him, they use the same verb for recognition that the text uses when we're told that Issac didn't recognize Jacob.

6 - Jacob takes advantage of his father's blindness and deceives him. Later, he is deprived of his own sight by the darkness of night and is deceived by Lavan and Leah.

7 - On the night before his reconciliation with Esav, Jacob is maimed by a mysterious stranger. The name "Jacob" Robert Alter tells us, can be construed as "he who acts crookedly." Along with wounding him, the stranger changes his name. Does this injury, (and the attendant name change) on the eve of his meeting with Esav serve to "straighten him out?" (See Rashi on the spot, who says: "it will no longer be said that the blessings came to you through deviousness ('oqbah) (hear the echo in Yaakov?) but, instead through lordliness.") Perhaps the wrestling match with the stranger is meant to illustrate Jacob's battle with (and eventual victory over) his own worst impulses?

8 - On the morning after the wrestling match, we are told that the "sun rose upon him" Nachum Sarna has observed that when Jacob's departure was marked by the setting on the sun. Now, his demon conquered, his crookedness corrected, his exile completed, the rising sun welcomes him home.

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